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America’s pastime has so many endearing qualities such as the 7th inning stretch, friendly exchanges between baserunners and infielders, and unique dugout celebrations when hitters club an extra-base hit among many others. However, several players have developed a particular habit that has become ill-favored among some fans: the crotch grab.
There are many reasons baseball players tend to grab their crotch, but here are the four main reasons: tight pants, protective cups, habit, and superstition.
Exploring the reasons behind this unique custom proves it to be rather simple yet fascinatingly complex.
The style of baseball pants have changed quite a bit over the years. Babe Ruth and Lou Gherig can be seen in old pictures wearing baggy pants that appear to be three sizes too big. The pants Pete Rose and Johnny Bench wore in their time were borderline tights. Today’s baseball players typically sport pants that are on the baggier side, but they are much tighter than the pants Ruth and Gherig wore.
Any male that has ever worn tight pants knows that they can cause some traffic in the crotch area. Every so often, an adjustment is necessary to fix this bit of discomfort. Oftentimes, that grab of the crotch before an at-bat, in between pitches, or in the on-deck circle is simply just to adjust the pants.
Baseballs can take funny bounces, especially in the infield. That is why most infielders and every catcher must take the necessary precautions to protect their most valuable assets.
A protective cup (normally just called a cup) is a piece of protective gear worn in the crotch area under the pants in order to protect a man’s vulnerable area. It is often required at lower levels of baseball, especially for catchers.
While the cup offers security for a player, it does come with a price. As one can imagine, it is not the most comfortable piece of equipment and often requires adjustment.
Fans may notice catchers grab their crotch right before giving signs to the pitcher. The constant transition from standing to squatting to kneeling can cause the cup to reposition itself resulting in a quick crotch grab to put it back where it belongs.
Basically, anytime the player moves, the cup is likely to move as well. Some are more sturdy than others depending on the quality of the jockstrap or compression shorts used to secure it.
While many players get used to the feeling of wearing a cup during a game, they do not necessarily enjoy it. It is more of a necessary evil for most.
The Nutty Buddy is a cup that was designed to provide players more protection and comfort. While it is not clear if it has done its part helping to eliminate the crotch grab in the game, it does seem to offer more protection than a more generic protective cup. Watch this video as John Brenkus from Sports Science breaks down the science behind the Nutty Buddy.
The first two reasons are practical. These next two. . . not so much. The practicality of the tight pants and protective cup adjustment often leads to a habit that many players struggle to break.
Some players grab their crotch more than once in a particular at-bat. When asked why, many will often respond by claiming to have no recollection of the action.
Take former relief pitcher Chris Resop for example. As reported on cespedesfamilybarbeque.com, sometime in his baseball career, Resop developed a habit of grabbing his crotch every time he gave up a home run. It is unlikely that this was done out of spite toward the hitter as Resop always turned around to watch the ball leave the yard as he reached for his groin.
“Baseball players aren’t that superstitious,” said someone who clearly never played the game. Find a baseball player who claims he isn’t even a little superstitious, and you have found yourself a liar.
Some of the most basic of habits can turn into superstitions during a hot streak at the plate or a great game on the mound. Mark Teixeira reportedly began wearing two different socks every game after CC Sebathia’s sock ended up in his locker. He hit two home runs and had six RBI that game, so he decided to continue the fashion statement.
Some of the more interesting superstitions in baseball can be found in Bleacher Report’s “Baseball’s 50 Weirdest All-Time Superstitions”. May you be warned, weird is an understatement for many of them.
It can be reasonably inferred that this crotch grabbing has turned into superstition for many ball players. All it takes is one grab followed by a home run or a strikeout to make a player believe the adjustment caused the success.
The Poster Boy
The Washington Nationals young phenom Juan Soto is the modern player that comes to mind as the poster boy for crotch grabbing in Major League Baseball. The 20-year-old has one of the more intricate batter’s box routines in all of baseball that is now known as “The Soto Shuffle”. It often involves a grabbing of the crotch.
At first, the crotch grab was written off as a simple nervous tick that was just part of the star’s routine. Soto’s quote in The Washington Post after this funny exchange with Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas (See video below) says otherwise: “I like to get in the minds of pitchers because they sometimes get scared.” While he doesn’t come right out and say that intimidation is the intention behind his grabbing of the crotch, this quote suggests that it may be.
Mikolas’s counter-crotch grab after Soto grounded out to the second basemen was 100% in retaliation to “The Soto Shuffle”. As reported in an article from Deadspin, both players considered the exchange to be harmless and “all in good fun”.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a player be punished for grabbing his crotch?
It has happened before. In 2014, Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon was ejected after grabbing his crotch in response to booing fans.
Will it ever be banned in the MLB?
Nothing is off the table, but it is hard to imagine the crotch grab being banned as majority of the time it is rather harmless. However, if the MLB is ever hurting for money, they could make a killing off of fines for the action.
Is it the most pleasing sight for baseball fans?
Definitely not. Does that bother the players and deter them from frequently grabbing their crotch during games? Probably not as most of the time it is done for practical reasons.
Crotch grabbing just appears to be a part of America’s pastime that doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon.